Who is Praying


by Lou Binninger

It is interesting to study research that tells us what we do and then tries to explain why we do it. Arthur C. Brooks wrote “Who Really Cares” to describe those that are the most generous and compassionate people of America as America is the most charitable country in the world. 

Brooks found that people in Mississippi, the poorest state in the union, were the most generous when giving is measured as a percentage of income. Brooks’ findings were similar to Jesus’ observation in the synagogue as told in an account commonly called the Widow’s Mite.

Mark 12:41-44 says "He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, 'I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.

The worldview of many Early Americans was Bible-based and shaped a value system of work, frugality and honoring God. This mindset created an America that became an international economic powerhouse in the first 100 years.

Today, like then, some Americans govern their lives according to Biblical principles and others do not. The Bible teaches that just any concept of God will not do and there are plenty of power encounters in the Bible between God and Brand X beliefs (I Kings 18) to illustrate that point.

Last week was National Day of Prayer (May 2). As church affiliation has been dropping over the last few decades and even the number of serious God followers, recent surveys show America still is a praying nation when compared to the top 102 wealthiest countries on the globe.

            The Bible is not anti-wealth. It tells how to build wealth but it also cautions not to be stumbled by riches to forget the God that enabled that wealth to be gained. There are plenty of sad stories today telling of people sacrificing their families, integrity and a relationship with God for the love of money. So, wealth can get in the way of devotion to God but it doesn’t have to.

            The Pew Research Center found that the U.S. is unique in that it has both a high level of wealth ($56,000 per-capita GDP- gross domestic product in 2015) and a high level of daily prayer among its population (55% according to the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study).

            In other wealthy countries surveyed – those with a per-capita GDP over $30,000 – fewer than 40% of adults say they pray every day. For example, in Japan, where per-capita GDP is about $38,000, roughly a third (33%) pray daily. In Norway, where per-capita GDP is about $68,000, fewer than one-in-five adults (18%) do.

The survey did not include wealthy countries in the Arabian Peninsula, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which would be expected to have high levels of prayer. These are Islamic countries and prayer is mandatory.

            At the other end of the economic spectrum, countries with less wealth tend to have higher rates of prayer. Every country where at least 70% of adults say that they pray each day has a per-capita GDP under $20,000. For example, in Egypt, where 72% say they pray every day, per-capita GDP is about $11,000. And in Afghanistan, where 96% of adults say they pray every day, the per-capita GDP is about $2,000.

            However, again, countries ruled by Islam, rich or poor, are forced to pray which skews the survey results. In Vietnam and Bulgaria – where per-capita GDPs are $6,000 and $19,000, respectively – the share of adults who say they pray daily are 14% and 15%. (Among the 102 countries examined, the national average share of people who say they pray daily is 49%.)

            Why does the U.S. have higher self-reported daily prayer than other wealthy countries? Some believe because there is a freedom for spiritual pursuit here. However, any honest research of the founders and their wrangling to establish a new country cannot miss a strong prayer DNA in America. They were convinced that a living God guided the establishment of the United States.

            According to President Washington, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”